Your most important "life" documents

Most would assume your most important documents are your Social Security card, birth certificate, and driver's license, and perhaps a close fourth would be your vaccination card these days. However, what many don't think about are the advance directive documents you need to ensure your healthcare wishes are known and followed during a medical crisis.

Regarding issues of your health, who would speak for you if you could not speak for yourself? Would the person you choose know what to do, what you do or do not want done on your behalf? What directions would they follow?

It is a common assumption that only the sick and elderly need advance directives. But few people are aware that a carefully drafted durable power of attorney for health care is vital for every adult - young or old, healthy or sick, disabled or able-bodied.

This may well be your most important document!

Consider it if you are young or well as your "if I get hit by a bus" document because the reality is, you may not be pleased about who may be in control of your healthcare decisions if you are unable to speak for yourself and have not made your wishes known in an official way.

In my professional role as a social worker who has worked with patients and families for more than 25 years, I've found there are few things more challenging for families than having to make decisions for a loved one who never expressed their treatment preferences.

Families are often left arguing at the bedside with relationships permanently damaged when their loved one's desires have been left unspoken and undocumented.

Tim Rogers, the President and CEO of the Association of Home and Hospice Care of North Carolina has been advocating for adults to complete their advance directives throughout his tenure. Recently he had an experience with how these documents play out in the real world.

Tim said: "Having been a professional homecare and hospice advocate for the elderly for nearly 30 years, I have been taught the value of expressing your own desires in your health care. An Advance Directive allows this important expression including your value, especially with end-of-life care. Yet, I have never truly seen this amazing value up close until the recent cancer illness, hospitalization, and hospice care of my elderly Father. His Advanced Care Directive allowed "us" -as a family-to transition to the preferred type of care he wanted- which was to be hospital discharged into hospice inpatient care and live his end of life in comfort and peace."

People purchase fire insurance even though their houses may never burn down. Likewise, competent adults should complete a protective advance directive even though they may never be unable to make decisions for themselves. If you are unsure about how you would like to live out your last moments in life, you can make these documents as least or as most restrictive as you would like them to be, and they are not written in stone. Please see the infographic to give you some ideas about how to start the conversation. You can always revise your advance directives at any given time or as your wishes change.

One good way to think about what you would like if you are found in a very physically fragile position is this: think back to a situation you have witnessed others go through, then decide if you would like similar care if you were in that position. In addition to the Health Care Power of Attorney, another document that makes capturing these ideas much easier and is also legally valid in North Carolina is the "Living Will." Both can be found on the North Carolina Secretary of State's website. There is also an online registry for you to file your documents so they can be made readily available whenever and wherever a medical crisis occurs. You can find the registry here: here.

If you are caregiving for a loved one and would like to get connected with others in our community who are walking the same path, join ABC11's Caregivers Corner moderated by Nicole Clagett. The group has 1500+ people supporting one another and sharing wonderful information and resources daily. More helpful tips about this topic can be found on ABC11's Caregivers Corner section.
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